In the #HamZone

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The Tony Awards are tonight, and I plan pay attention to them this year because of the Hamilton phenomenon. I’m surprised I haven’t written about it here, because I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for months on end. If Prince hadn’t died in April, it would now be month three of solid Hamilton listening for me.

The music tells a fantastic story, and has succeeded in bringing history into the mainstream and–more importantly–making it relevant to schoolkids. That’s something of a miracle, in its own right. I taught history for several years in the Chicago Public Schools, and always tried to make the past interesting. But music has charms that I never possessed, either.

So I’m figuratively in the Hamilton zone, for sure. I think this will last through the end of the year, at least, because the first Hamilton run outside of New York opens in Chicago this fall. Hamilton will open in other cities after that, and the diffusion of this show will bring new excitement along the way. How lucky we are to be alive to see it.

But I’m literally in a Hamilton zone of a different sort. I’ve written before about outliving people–usually writers–and musing about the random nature of life and how much of it each of us is allowed to have. Whenever someone dies now, the first question I ask is how old they were when they passed. For instance, I am younger than Muhammad Ali, and older than Christina Grimmie, when their days came to an end.

Ali himself said “Don’t count the days, Make the days count”  so age isn’t a measure of very much. But in terms of sunrises and sunsets, I’ve had more than Henry David Thoreau, George Orwell, Albert Camus, and many others. And I’ll keep having them until further notice, however long that may be.

But whether I’ve passed Hamilton or not is an open question. Everyone knows Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr in the summer of 1804, but when he was born isn’t so clear cut. He considered his birthday to be 1757, and gave that as his birth year when he immigrated to America in 1772. By this count, he would have died at the age of about 47 and a half.

But the official documents from the island of Nevis tell another story. They indicate he was born in 1755, making him two years older than he told the world he was. We would all, at a certain point in life, like to be two years younger than we really are, and Hamilton lived his life this way.

So the birthday I have coming up in two days is the first of two in what I’m calling the #HamZone (Hamilton has devised all sorts of interesting hashtags of this variety, so I’m running with it here, as well). I’m already older than Hamilton told the world he was at the time of his death, but still younger than what he may actually have been. And in a year when Hamilton’s life has become relevant through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing show, it’s a pretty cool place to be, I must admit.

 

 

Sign O’ the times, mess with your mind

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Learning that Prince died from an overdose of fentanyl makes his death harder to deal with than ever. I’ve forgotten by now what the original cause of death was reported to be, but people swore up and down that his religion and/or his healthy lifestyle meant that drugs could not have played a role. But that lie has now been exposed for what it is.

When I was in graduate school a quarter of a century ago, I was given an assignment to find artifacts from different periods of history. The artifacts I used were a metallic bell that purported to be made from the USS Maine as a relic from the 1890s, the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter as a relic of the 1940s, and Prince’s song “Sign O’ the Times” as a relic of the 1980s. We were hardly even out of the 1980s at that point, and it already felt like Prince had encapsulated that decade as well as anybody could.

The lyrics to the song addressed everything from AIDS (“a big disease with a little name”) to crime (“being ‘ in a gang called the Disciples high on crack, totin’ a machine gun”) to the space shuttle disaster (“when the rocket ship explodes”). It was a snapshot of, well, the times we were living in back in the 1980s. I knew it then, and am even more aware of it now, all these years later.

But a line from it foreshadows Prince’s own death. Anyone familiar with the song knows what it is, but since many aren’t familiar with it, I’ll spell it out here as a public service. Think of it as my good deed for the day. Prince sings the following line:

In September my cousin tried reefer for the very first time

Now he’s doin’ Horse, it’s June

“Horse” was a reference to heroin, and the idea Prince was getting at was marijuana was thought of as a gateway to harder, more serious drugs like heroin. It’s beyond ironic, then, that a man who sang about heroin addiction could one day become a victim of it, himself. But what’s even more telling is that a gateway to heroin does exist, but it’s not marijuana at all.

The gateway that led Prince to heroin and fentanyl was opioids, and Percocet in particular. It needs to be pointed out that these drugs are legal when prescribed by a doctor. They aren’t illegal street drugs, the way that marijuana and LSD are. They are what’s known as Schedule II drugs, meaning they are entrusted to the medical community for the purposes of treating and managing pain. But once they leave the medical community, havoc ensues. And the path from there to heroin–a Schedule I drug which is cheaper and easier to obtain than the prescription drugs–is all too well-traveled.

If Prince– with all of his fame and notoriety–could not escape the clutches of these drugs, it highlights the challenges the rest of us face. We’re all just an injury or a surgical recovery away from having these things given to us. And it’s all legal, right there before us, with a doctor’s approval and an insurance company co-pay to soften the financial blow.

Congress and the individual states have at last grasped the seriousness of the heroin and opioid epidemic. May prevention and treatment be the leaders of the pack in this regard, instead of a “tough on crime” approach that our legal system isn’t ready to support. That was tried once already, and it simply hasn’t worked.

Maybe the best thing to come from Prince’s death, if anything positive is to be found, is a realization that “horse” and the drugs leading up to it are not a joke, and that those of us who have been lucky enough to escape their clutches must not judge those who are in their grip. We should instead help them in whatever way we can, which will help our society rise above the damage these drugs have wrought. If this should happen, we’ll all be much better off.

To close with another Prince lyric, in the outro part of “Sign o’ the Times” he sings

Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s too late.

It’s not too late to address the issue of heroin and its related drugs, but we do need to have some urgency as the death toll continues to rise.

Time….

 

Enough is enough

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Opioids are taking a terrible toll on this country, and yet they’re perfectly legal. The Pharma companies that manufacture them are profiting from addiction and death. I’m grateful I don’t know anyone who has had an addiction to these things, but not everyone has been so fortunate.

Can we now have an honest discussion of legalizing marijuana everywhere for medical use, at the very least? I’d rather have Prince–or anybody else–walking around with a bong in his hand, treating his pain in a way that wouldn’t get him addicted to anything.

I’m in favor of legalizing it for recreational use, too, because people are going to smoke whether it’s legal or not. Alcohol takes an enormous social toll, but experience has shown that regulating people’s vices is a fool’s errand.

Sacrificing our brothers, sisters, friends, family members and music idols to the opioid makers doesn’t make sense anymore, if it ever did in the first place.

Note: This is cross-posted from something I wrote on Facebook this morning, commenting on a Washington Post story about Prince’s scheduled meeting with an opioid specialist the day after he was found dead. 

UPDATE: Apparently this approach worked for Jim McMahon. Why not allow others to self-medicate like this? I can’t think of a good reason not to.

Saying thanks to The New Yorker

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Many years ago (almost 34 years, to be exact) I wrote a letter to the editor of a wrestling magazine. The young teenager that I was at the time watched a lot of professional wrestling on TV, and they were to me what Batman and Superman were for those who read comic books. Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Dick the Bruiser and, most of all, Roddy Piper were living, breathing examples of escapism and super powers. I would practice wrestling moves on the bed at home, or with my two younger brothers. It was a fun time in my life, and I miss it in some ways.

I felt sufficiently moved by my admiration for Roddy Piper to write a letter and put it in the mail slot of the hospital where I went to visit my dying grandmother. I never really thought they would publish it, though. Just saying it, or writing the words down, was enough for me at that time. But they published my letter in the fall of 1982, and the excitement I got from seeing my words and my name in print is something I haven’t since forgotten. My name has occasionally made its way into print, but literally millions of my words have been submitted  for public review since then. It’s tremendously gratifying to know that many of my ideas and words are floating around, somewhere.

Two days ago, in the aftermath of Prince’s sudden and shocking death last week, I was again moved to send out a letter to the editor of a magazine, this time The New Yorker. I was barely aware of who Prince was back in 1982 when I wrote my first letter to the editor, but I learned not too long after that. And just as the Internet has come along and brought great change to the way news and ideas are shared with the public, I didn’t actually write out a letter this time, but I did compose the following as an email:

It’s April 25, and the news of Prince’s sudden passing still feels shocking and raw. We’ve all had a weekend to mourn and reflect on what his music meant for those of us who grew up in the 80s, as well as those who either discovered his music after that, or those who followed his newer music right up until the end. It’s a hard time for all of us, no matter which category we may fall into.

Your April 25 cover is a fascinating glimpse into this present day. There’s just no way that anyone connected with your magazine could have known that, by the date appearing on the cover itself, we would lose a man who was an absolute wizard on the electric guitar. Nor could you realize that the man whose music broke down every barrier–racial, gender, and generational, to name just a few–would leave us within days of this cover’s appearance. And yet, there it is on your cover, in red and blue (and the fact the two colors combine to make purple is another inexplicable coincidence).

We can see people of all concert-going ages, backgrounds, and stations in life joined together in a room, enjoying themselves in a way that would not be possible in any other public setting. The guitar’s fretboard we can see on the cover, but the guitarist’s identity in this idyllic scene remains unknown. My interpretation is that the guitarist most likely to make such a gathering possible is the one who is being commemorated in purple in your next issue.

I’m already thinking of these as the most accidental–and yet most appropriate–covers pairing that we’ll ever see. Many thanks for such an unintentional gift.

Whether the New Yorker does anything with this note is besides the point. I had something to say, and I said it. And the internet and this blog allow me share this message with whatever part of the online world wants to read it, too. Just having an outlet for the idea is enough. And when the Prince tribute cover arrived in the mailbox today, I had to put the covers side by side and share them here. They are the beautiful ones, indeed.

The sky was all purple

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Springfield, Illinois–the town where I grew up–doesn’t have very many suburbs, but I lived in one of them. And for this suburban child of the 80s, the electric guitar reigned supreme. Led Zeppelin was my favorite, of course, but any record would either rise or fall in my estimation of it, based solely upon the level of guitar work it held forth.

Eddie Van Halen was in the pantheon of guitar gods, and others sometimes entered into his dominion. Sammy Hagar played some mean guitar, and those two joining forces in the 80s made me absolutely giddy with joy. Judas Priest had two dueling guitarists, which also raised their stature, at least for me. In a nutshell, to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, guitar was good.

Prince’s Purple Rain provided the first glimpse to me of how gifted he was on the guitar. The solo at the end of “Let’s Go Crazy” was ferocious, and the only thing I knew that was any better turned out to be that album’s title track. Prince sings the final lyric to that song, lets out a note that would make Les Paul proud, and then punctuates a beautiful song with some positively searing guitar work. None of the spandex-clad dudes from the Sunset Strip could touch that.

Maybe that’s why I loved Prince’s halftime show at the Super Bowl so much. He asks the crowd “Can I play this guitar?” and then proves to everyone that yes, he can play it, and better than any other guitarist could.

Nobody ever puts Prince high enough on the list of “greatest guitar players of all time.” Names like Hendrix and Clapton and Jeff Beck invariably appear, and they’re all great artists. I would not want to disparage any of them. But when Prince chose to turn it loose on the guitar, nobody did it like him.

I’m watching the sunrise this morning in Wilmette, Illinois (although I don’t actually live here). The suburban kids who live here, and in a million other places, might not treasure the electric guitar in the same way that I once did. But those who do would be well-advised to savor the guitar work Prince laid down through the years. Then they might understand how a little bit of greatness can go a very long way.

I spent the 80s in purple

Prince died today, at the age of 57. Coming on the heels of the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey already this year, I didn’t think there would be any more meaningful musical deaths for some time. Apparently I was wrong in that belief. This one really left me stunned.

The high school I attended had purple and gold as its school colors, and when “Purple Rain” came out in 1984, not only was the music undeniably great but it also felt a bit like hitting the lottery. The title wasn’t “Auburn Rain” or “Sapphire Rain” or any of the other colors available on the visible spectrum, but it was “Purple Rain.” My high school, like a thousand others I’m sure, used “Purple Reign” as their homecoming theme that fall, because our purple-clad school was supposed to rule, you know? Totally. (It didn’t happen like everyone thought it would that year, but it was a kickass idea, all the same).

When I graduated from high school in 1986, my college choices came down to the orange and blue of the University of Illinois, or the purple and white of Northwestern. School colors played zero part in making my decision, but once I threw my lot in with the purple and white, I made sure to put a window sticker in the back of my old Dodge Dart. The purple looked great, and I still have a purple and white sweatshirt to announce to the world where I went to school once upon a time. And if people want to see purple and think of Prince, that’s fine. I do the same thing myself.

Musicians enter into our hearts in ways that actors and writers and other artists never do, particularly when we’re young. Prince kept on making music until the end of his life, but Purple Rain and a few other albums he released in the 80s have, and always will, cement his status as a cultural touchstone for me and millions of others who came of age decades ago.

The identification of Prince with the color purple will be seen over and over in the coming days and weeks. Simply put, purple is his color, but I’m happy to say that it’s mine, as well.

Purple Reign

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern

In anticipation of this year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, Rolling Stone put together a list of the Top Halftime shows from years gone by. The top show, at least in my opinion, was Prince’s turn at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. In case you’ve blocked it out over what happened to the Bears on that day, here’s a quick recap:

Fireworks and pyrotechnics; two fine-looking dancing women; jaw-dropping guitar work; a marching band; some shadowy images of Prince’s, should we say, unique guitar; and a hypnotic, show-stopping finale; all against the backdrop of a healthy rainstorm.

In short, Purple Rain was performed in the purple rain. How does it get better than that?

Since watching this performance again online, Purple Rain has been stuck inside my head for nearly a week. And it was against this mental soundtrack that Northwestern University and the Chicago Cubs announced a partnership that will significantly raise the profile of both parties in the years ahead. It certainly points toward some very good things in the near future..

Northwestern could never build a 75,000 seat football stadium on Chicago’s North Shore. The neighbors wouldn’t stand for it, and the Wildcats’ fan base, as supportive as it is, sometimes struggles to fill up the 50,000 seats of Ryan Field. But who needs to do that, now that the Cats have access to iconic Wrigley Field?

And don’t think that this recruiting tool is going to go unused, either. What high school prospect–when faced with making the biggest decision of his young life–won’t jump at the chance to step onto the field at Clark and Addison? And who among us wouldn’t do the same thing, if we had that chance?

This arrangement, along with with the new sports facility being planned along the lakefront on Northwestern’s campus, is a sure sign that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere. That’s going to be another huge advantage Northwestern will have in recruiting during the years ahead.

When Notre Dame gets back to work next summer–seeking to quickly get to Manti Who?–they will be dogged by questions about Brian Kelly’s future. He’s already interviewed with an NFL team, after steadily rising through the coaching ranks in college. It’s naïve to think that he’ll be at Notre Dame long term. From watching how the annual Gary Barnett Soap Opera played out in the late 1990s, I can confidently say that one or two years of that will be more than enough for anyone in South Bend.

Bret Bielema, who seemed to be Wisconsin’s coach for the foreseeable future, has flown the coop in Madison for the greener pastures of the SEC. Urban Meyer, who will have National Championship pressures for however long he’ll be at Ohio State, is something of a coaching nomad, himself.

And then there’s Coach Fitz. You may recall how he first put Northwestern’s football program back on the map, as a player back in the 1990s. As an alumnus, and a tireless ambassador for the school and the program that he has built, he has the unwavering support of the University, the Athletic Department, and the student body. There’s no chance of him leaving anytime soon, and that stability means everything for teenagers who don’t want the rug pulled out from under them. That’s exactly what happens, whenever a head coach moves on to someplace else.

It’s taken several years, and many disappointments, but things are now falling into place very quickly for Northwestern football. With a bowl victory, a loaded team coming back in the Fall, a respected head coach, a new training facility on the drawing board, and an arrangement to play in Wrigley Field in the future, a golden age of Wildcat football seems to be just a few months away. It could even end up as a Purple reign.

Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with

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Driving around town this afternoon, I heard Prince’s Kiss on the radio. And I thought about how his halftime show in Miami is–and will probably always be–the standard against which all other halftime shows will be measured, at least as far as I’m concerned. It was Purple Rain, played in the rain. Amazing isn’t a strong enough word for it. May I live long enough to see a better one.

I was dreaming when I wrote this

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As we begin the final month, either of the year or of civilization on earth, I’m reminded of Prince’s song “1999” from the album of the same name. The premise of the song is that if the world is coming to an end, we should all have fun before it does. My favorite line is one that Prince himself didn’t even sing: “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.”

When the end comes, if it ever does at all, it would be nice to have a bit of warning, but I don’t think it will work out that way. If the Mayans are right, well, this should be one hell of a month. But I have a feeling that come New Year’s Day, a month from now, there’s going to be some Mayans with a lot of ‘splaining to do. I hope so, anyway.

99 Cubsballoons go by

There’s something about the number 99. Maybe it was because I grew up watching reruns of Get Smart, and Barbara Feldon’s Agent 99 was always so much easier on the eyes—and the ears—than Don Adams’ abrasive 86. The Cubs, for their part, are closing in on 99 losses for a season, which is something they haven’t done in my lifetime.

In almost 40 years of following the Cubs, there are only three things that I haven’t yet seen: The World Series (of course), 100 wins or losses in a season, and for the Cubs to be on the wrong end of a no-hitter. Since Carlos Zambrano threw his no-hitter in Milwaukee, you could put seeing a no-hitter in Wrigley Field on that list, too. But otherwise, there’s nothing that I haven’t seen the Cubs do to an opponent, or seen someone else do to the Cubs.

But what’s so interesting about the number 99 is the amount of music it has inspired. When all of us were kids, once of the first songs that we all learned was “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Never mind whether it’s inappropriate to be singing to kids about beer drinking when they don’t know what beer is, anyway. Maybe it’s just teaching them how to run up a tab, which isn’t such a bad skill to have if you plan to follow the Cubs one day.

Back in 1979, a band called Toto had a hit song called “99.” I always assumed it had something to do with the aforementioned Agent 99, but apparently it was written to honor George Lucas’ film THX-1138. You learn something new every day.

Three years later, Bruce Springsteen released “Nebraska.” If you’ve ever seen Springsteen perform live, you may have been lucky enough to see “Johnny 99,” which is much more fun live than the studio version is. And Johnny Cash even did a pretty swingin’ version of the song, but then again, Johnny Cash could turn any song into something great.

The following year, Prince came along and hit it big with “1999.” Even though the song was recorded sixteen years before the actual year, it was eminently danceable, and was the title track to what was his biggest hit to that time. Many musicians would love to have a song that well-known, but Prince then went on to even bigger and better things the following year with “Purple Rain.”

At about the same time as Prince’s song, there was an unknown German band called Nena scored a huge international hit with “99 Luftballoons.” The video got played on MTV, even though nobody knew what she was singing. It had the “we’re all gonna die in an accidental nuclear war” theme that briefly permeated the culture (see also Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” and the movie “WarGames,” among other examples). The song was recut into English, and it became a hit all over again. That synth line just couldn’t be denied, I guess.

And to bring the number up to a more current sound, Jay-Z gave us “99 Problems” back in 2006. The Cubs themselves were awful back in 2006, as it was the final year of the Dusty Baker era in Chicago. They fell out of contention in May, but stabilized a bit and wound up with 96 losses that year. Or to put it another way, the Cubs had 96 problems but, once the season was over, a manager wasn’t one.

So, barring an unexpected turn toward respectability in the desert this weekend, the Cubs will hit 99 losses for the first time that many of us have ever seen. And from there, there’s only one place left to go.

And here is a souvenir, Just to prove the Cubs were here….      

Only want to to see you in the Purple Rain

A couple of decades ago, when I was in high school, I had a job bagging groceries in a supermarket. One of the duties of this job was clearing the lot, which meant bringing in all of the shopping carts from out in the parking lot.

There was a certain trick to being able to line up 15-18 carts and successfully bring them into the store. I see little robotic carts that are now used at Target and places like that for the same purpose. But we had no such gadgetry available to us back then.  And it was also a nice break from asking people if they wanted their items in paper or plastic  bags.

One day, I’m guessing it was in 1985, the store manager told me to go and clear the lot. It was pouring rain at the time, and I didn’t have a poncho or a raincoat or anything to keep the water off of me. But you gotta do what you gotta do, even if it only paid something like $3.50 an hour back then. So out to the lot I went.

I recall getting through the experience by singing, in a rather loud and unabashed way, Prince’s song Purple Rain. What that afternoon lacked in purpleness, it more than made up for with rain. Lots and lots of rain.

This evening, as I watched the rain coming down outside, and thought about a memory that I had long forgotten all about, I came to realize that music takes on a whole new meaning when it’s raining. Think of Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain.” What a glorious feeling, he sang (and danced), and the scene wouldn’t have been the same without the rain coming down. It was as if he didn’t mind the rain at all. In other words, Let it rain.

A few years ago, Prince played the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Of all the Super Bowls that have ever been played, this is the only one that’s been played in the rain. So what did Prince do, after playing the obligatory hits medley first? If you guessed that he turned the house lights purple and played that song for the thousands in the stadium, and the millions, like myself, watching on television,  you would be absolutely correct. It was almost as if someone had ordered up the rain for Prince on that day.

The rain has now stopped, and tomorrow will probably be another miserably hot and humid day. But the flowers and the grass and the crops all needed the rain, and they must have also felt a bit like Gene Kelly tonight. Or those fans at halftime of the Super Bowl in Miami. Or even me, in that supermarket parking lot all those many years ago. Come on with the rain, indeed.

I know this much is true

At the end of a long day at work today, I faced the prospect of a long commute to get home. It always seems like getting to work takes 15 minutes in the morning, and getting home takes an hour in the evening. Some of that is psychological–does anybody look forward to work more than home?–and some is because I don’t take the tollway on the way home. When the tolls are doubled, as they were here some time ago, it makes taking the tollway each way seem like an extravagance.

To pass the time on the way home today, I had a CD filled with hits from the 80s. Songs that, whether I loved or hated them back in the 80s themselves, are now a treasured part of my past. It’s very bizarre to think of Billy Squier as being a treasure, but two minutes of FM hit radio in 2012 is enough to make me start singing “Everybody Wants You.”

At one point, about five or six songs into the CD, a song started to skip, and I wasn’t able to listen to it. What surprised me today, and probably would have disgusted the  teenager I once was, was that I was disappointed when I couldn’t hear Spandau Ballet’s “True.”

Back in the 1980s, I listened to Def Leppard, Judas Priest, the Scorpions, Quiet Riot, Night Ranger, and pretty much any other “hair metal” band that was on the radio or on MTV. I listened to some other things too, like Prince, Bruce Springsteen, and Run-DMC. So I wasn’t locked into just one type of music, but I did have my preferences. And Spandau Ballet wasn’t among them.

But things changed over time. I was once a simmering cauldron of confusion, anxiety, frustration, insecurities, bravado, and stupidity, with a thick outer layer of smart-ass holding it all together. I was waiting for my life to start back then, oblivious to the fact that I was already living it, and once those teen-aged days were gone, they weren’t coming back again. I actually wanted that to happen back then, but now I wish I had found some way to enjoy the moment a bit more than I actually did.

So the me that once hated Spandau Ballet, because they didn’t have long hair and guitar solos, is gone. In his place is someone who’s lived enough to know more about how the world is, and how people are, and how things turn out the way they’re supposed to, whether you see them coming or you don’t. Someone who can appreciate a catchy melody and a nice sentiment in the lyrics. And someone who is a lot more comfortable in his own skin than that kid from three decades ago.

The next song played without a hitch (“She’s a Beauty” by the Tubes), and before too long I was back at home, living a life that the teen-aged me might find interesting, or boring, or perhaps someplace in between. But at least there’s now room in it for a song by Spandau Ballet.

F/U/S/G

Of all the many seasons I’ve been a Cubs fan, 1984 ranks as my favorite one. The year 1984, all by itself, was an important year in my life. It was the year that I learned how to drive a car and, when my birthday came around, I got my license to drive. And whoever you are, life changes in a big way once that happens.

1984 was also when I got my first “real” job, as a grocery bagger in a local supermarket. I kept the job throughout high school, mostly because I was only scheduled to work on the weekends, so as not to interfere with my studies. I settled into a “study during the week, work and go carousing on the weekend, and then start all over again on Monday” cycle that I wouldn’t break out of for many years afterward.

And 1984 also had some great music. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Prince’s Purple Rain were probably the best 1-2 album punch of my lifetime. The phrase “I want my MTV” had relevance because it hadn’t yet come to the local cable provider, but music videos like “What’s Love Got to Do with it” and “Missing You” were showing that the genre had lots of possibilities. Give me any song from 1984 on the radio over any of the junk that gets played on “hit radio” today.

And against this backdrop of change and possibility, the Cubs decided to start winning. There was the “Daily Double” of Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg at the top of the batting order, along with Harry Caray, who gave them their name and gushed about baseball in a way that I han’t seen before. There was Gary ‘Sarge” Matthews in left field, Ron “Penguin” Cey at third Base, and Leon “Bull” Durham at first base. There were no lights anywhere to be seen at Wrigley Field, Rick Sutcliffe was unbeatable on the mound, and the Cubs had a leggy “ballgirl” named Marla Collins. The 1984 Cubs were a rocking good time, all summer long. It was as good a summer as I’ve ever had in my life.

The Cubs wrapped up their first division title in Pittsburgh, with Rick Sutcliffe going the distance. So one itch had been scratched, but a bigger prize lay over the horizon. And it seemed inevitable after the Cubs won the first two playoff games at Wrigley Field. Sutcliffe–the pitcher!–even went deep in the Cubs’ first playoff win. He was nearly superhuman by that point.

And then the team went out west. And Steve Garvey, who is the easily most reviled player I can think of for Cubs fans my age, hit a home run off of Lee Smith. He circled the bases with his fist raised in the air, and burned his way into my baseball memories. I wish I could evict him from the place that he occupies, but I can’t do it. Nothing better has come along in the deades since then.

But Garvey’s home run only sent the series to Game five. And that’s where Rick Sutcliffe ran out of gas. That’s where Leon Durham turned into Bill Buckner, two years before Bill Buckner did. and that’s where the good times came to a crashing halt. I said it was too good to be true, and it turned out that it was.

Steve Garvey, having been unsuccessful in his bid to buy the Dodgers franchise, now wants to buy the Padres instead. I’m hopeful he doesn’t succeed in this, but I think that he might just do it. Either way, the image of him running the bases, with a fist raised in triumph, will linger until further notice. I want to believe that this can be exorcised by making it to the World Series some day, but until then it looks like I’m stuck with it. I can certainly tell you that it’s no way to live.

NOTE:   The styling of the title for this post is an hommage to Prince’s D/M/S/R from his 1999 album.